Year's lottery take to the rescue?

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Will Labour be as tough on the causes of crumbling schools as it promised? TES writers examine problems and solutions

Lessons for at least 765,000 pupils in England take place in either a hut or mobile classroom, and more than 600 primary schools still have outside toilets, writes Clare Dean.

Thousands of children are being taught in schools that cannot provide the specialist accommodation required by the national curriculum.

And the bad news is that the already difficult situation in the country's cramped and crumbling schools is worsening dramatically.

Seven years ago the Audit Commission - the public spending watchdog - said that Pounds 2 billion needed to be spent on tackling the backlog of work in England's schools.

Today, that figure has increased by 60 per cent and local authorities claim that Pounds 3.2 billion must be spent over the next five years simply to keep open existing buildings.

Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said: "I don't know how you can expect children to learn in the conditions they are having to work in. There is rain coming through roofs and hundreds of schools still have outside toilets. It is appalling."

He now wants the Government to use the whole of the National Lottery money for at least 12 months as a one-off way of funding repairs and maintenance, and believes that this would be an enormous morale-booster for schools.

It could also help towards cutting dole queues. There is massive unemployment in the building industry and many schools with the most desperate problems are in areas with high numbers of people out of work. Mr Lane said a nationwide programme to start to clear the backlog of repairs would "create more work in such localities and be a way of getting the local economy booming fast".

At the moment it is not untypical for a large education authority with 500 schools to spend an average of only Pounds 400 annually on each one for essential repairs and maintenance.

Only last month, the Society of Chief Architects of Local Authorities claimed LEAs were spending only a third of what was needed to maintain school premises in England and Wales.

It said Nottinghamshire had allocated Pounds 10 million, but needed to spend an estimated Pounds 34 million, Derbyshire had earmarked Pounds 9 million when it needed Pounds 46 million and the London borough of Enfield Pounds 3. 7 million, when it needed Pounds 11.8 million.

A "dossier of shame" highlighting problems at nine schools in Derby which are said to be falling apart has already landed on the desk of David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary.

Labour-controlled Derby City Council wants him to provide more than Pounds 1 million to help get rid of, among other things, "temporary" classrooms still being used after more than 20 years.

Heads and teachers in schools in the city also have to cope with classroom windows that will not open and pit-props in the middle of rooms to shore up roofs.

Thousands of schools were built across the country in the post-war years and again in the Sixties when capital, labour, maintenance and energy costs were low.

Authorities knew they would need maintenance within 20 to 30 years - and almost all are now hitting the natural point where money needs to be spent on getting them up to scratch.

Government capital financial regimes have also meant that the rapid rise in rolls has badly affected the situation as well.

Five years ago, the Government allowed local authorities to spend Pounds 75.41 per pupil on capital projects - last year that figure had dropped to Pounds 58.55.

The Treasury has refused to support three-year rolling programmes of work, preferring instead to back one-year projects.

As pupil numbers have expanded, local authorities have had to devote more and more of the capital that is available for maintenance to provide additional school places. The blame for the state of the nation's schools as far as LEAs are concerned lies with the previous Tory government which they claim not only cut the grant available for repairs and maintenance but also forced them to rob budgets to fund pay rises.

"If you don't fund teachers' pay rises for six years, what do you expect?" said Mr Lane. "We are paying the price now."

FEFOCUS, page 31

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